Have you ever had an event trigger an understanding of something you thought you already knew, but apparently did not grasp fully? That’s the way I felt on January 20th, the morning after Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts special senatorial election on January 19th. Then I had my face rubbed in it by the Supreme Court’s decision giving corporations even greater power over what is left of our feeble democratic process.
I’ve been wrestling with the “lesser of two evils dilemma” since the first time I voted in 1968. In that election I rejected Nixon and Humphrey and chose Eldridge Cleaver. Since then, in national, state and local elections, I’ve vacillated between voting for the Democratic candidate or a left-wing alternative. I’ve been torn between two positions that appeared equally valid.
On one hand, in several important ways it has mattered whether Democrats or Republicans have been in control. For instance, I believe that Bush caused much more pain and suffering than Clinton did. A Democrat in office also meant a slightly better Supreme Court, a little less racism, a few more civil liberties, a little more butter for the downtrodden and a few less guns for the military. There have even been a few times when I felt the Democrat really was enough better to earn my vote.
But much more frequently I only voted for the Democrat because the Republican was so awful. The system never changed. In fact, I wonder if I’ve reinforced the status quo by participating in the electoral process. Perhaps Eugene Debs, who ran for President from his jail cell and garnered almost 1,000,000 votes on the Socialist Party ticket in 1920, summarized the second position best. He said: “It is better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.” I’ve been consistently unhappy for almost all of my 40-plus years of voting with the results of pulling the lever for the lesser evil. It strikes me that the only time I’ve not been dissatisfied with this course of action is when I couldn’t be disappointed in the lesser evil’s post-election performance because the candidate I voted for lost.
I knew all of this when I voted for Obama, and when I held my nose and voted for the lackluster Martha Coakley on January 19th. So what was left for me to realize on the morning of the 20th?
(Continue to Part 2: www.rfc.org/node/445)
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